Alex Machacek: Boy That's Sick!

Ian Patterson By

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I try to do whatever the music demands. I
Alex MachacekSince Alex Machacek last spoke to AAJ four years ago a lot has changed for the Austrian guitar wizard; he left Austria for Los Angeles, got married, and has received glowing praise for his music from, amongst others, guitar icon John McLaughlin.

Recently he signed a record deal with Abstract Logix with whom he has just released the critically acclaimed album [Sic]. AAJ caught up with Alex Machacek by phone and he reveals the problem with mallets, the relationship between a dead dog and the double-bass and more.

All About Jazz: Congratulations on your new album. I guess you must be pretty pleased with the way [sic] has turned out?

Alex Machacek: I still listen to it sometimes. Obviously I don't listen to it every day because while you're doing an album you have to listen to it constantly, especially if you are in the mixing stage, then usually you need a break. But sometimes I listen to it and I think, actually, it's cool!

AAJ: I think a lot of people would agree with you. I'm sure you listen to it in a different way though—are you looking for imperfections, things that you could have improved? Do you scan a very critical ear over it?

AM: There are a couple of things with the mix that I hear now that I would like to have different but that's about it. I wouldn't change anything else. Some people complain for instance about the first track with Randy Allar's "stupid comments but for me, honestly, that is one of the essential parts of the track.

AAJ: I was going to ask you about that. The jocular comments in between playing on that track remind me a lot of Frank Zappa's album Sheik Yerbouti (Zappa, 1979) and I wondered if you like Zappa's joking around or do you subscribe to the "Shut-up-'n-play-yer-guitar school of Zappa fan?

AM: I've got a couple of favorite Zappa albums. One is Zappa in New York (Zappa, 1978) and another is The Man From Utopia (Barking Pumpkin, 1983)

AAJ: Where does the title of your new album come from?

AM: [sic] is Latin and indicates even if it seems like a mistake to people that's how it was meant. And it's a word game. I remember I had an interview on a radio station in Texas and they played one of my songs from my first album and one guy called in and said, "Gosh, I just wanted to let you know the music you play is really sick! I took it as a compliment. I don't know if he meant it that way.

AAJ: How smooth or how difficult was the writing process for this album?

AM: It was a kind of mixture between two approaches. One approach was to write a song and play it with the band. All the things I played with my Austrian trio were relatively easy. The stuff I did with [drummer] Terry [Bozzio] involved a different process. I just composed around his drums. For the first track I said, "Can you please improvise for six minutes or so? He did that and sent it to me. So all I had was drum playing and nothing else. And the same happened with "Djon Don. And "Indian Girl is almost the same; the second part of "Indian Girl" was just a drum track. So yeah, that is kind of difficult because you really have to get your teeth into it to find something that you like and then start composing and try to make it sound as if it was one piece.

But I think that it is an interesting approach, at least for me. How long did it take? Well, I started "Djon Don years ago, but it's such a long song, nine minutes, that you run out of ideas and then you let it go and say, Okay, I won't continue working on this one for a while. Then you dig it out again and think, "Hey, I should continue.

AAJ: The vibes, or mallets that were on Featuring Ourselves (NGE 1999) crop up here again on this album on "Yellow Pages and "Djon Don, of course drawing more comparisons with Zappa or Ruth Underwood or Ed Mann. Is this your tribute to Zappa?

AM: This whole comparison thing...it's an interesting story. As soon as you put mallets on anything people will say, "Oh Zappa! Of course I listen to Zappa but on Featuring Ourselves we happened to have this great vibes player [Flip Philipp] who came to the first rehearsal and sight-read the whole program and on top of that he was a great improviser. It was really easy to work with him.

So I thought, "Ah, this is a little bit more interesting. Back then I was probably a bigger Zappa fan so I was okay with the comparison, but for my current album, well I'm still influenced by Zappa I admit, but I even considered not having any mallets on it just to avoid... you know...

AAJ: Well I'm glad you left them on because they sound great. I wanted to ask you about Terry Bozzio—your collaboration with Bozzio is almost eight or nine years long now. What do you like about Bozzio's playing?

AM: I like that he's different. It's inspiring to work with him because he's very recognizable. If Terry is playing you know it after a couple of seconds because of his very personal sound. And we're best friends so it's easy for me to work with him. When we play live it's just like having a conversation, a real-time chat that we have. Great interaction, his way of playing is very, very special. That's what's appealing to me.

AAJ: On [Sic] you use samples of Bozzio's drumming. Is an album of entirely sampled or programmed sounds something that you might like to do in the future?

AM: I would consider it. If I had music that would sound better just played from the computer then I would do that, but as long as he feels comfortable playing it then I'll ask him to play it.

AAJ: On your new album you reappraise "Austin Powers, which was on the BPM album Delete and Roll (NGE 2001). Are you ever truly satisfied with a composition or are you like Duke Ellington where every song is just a work in progress?

AM: I was actually satisfied with it on BPM but I re-did this song because on BPM it was just a trio and it was recorded live in the studio therefore I didn't have all the possibilities for layering certain instruments. You would have to have a pretty large ensemble to play all those parts. So I thought, "Why not just do it again? and actually this was a song considered for a [guitarist] Shawn Lane tribute album which never came out and I thought, "Well, then, okay. I'll put it on my record, because I liked the way it turned out. It's just a different version. And by the way it's one of the band's favorite songs, almost our "hit so it might even end up on a live record again!

AAJ: So we can expect to see it again on your first greatest hits album?

AM: Actually, one should start with a greatest hits album.

AAJ: What is the story behind the song title "Ballad of a Dead Dog?

AM: It's my mother. Whenever my mother hears an upright bass solo she says, "Well, this sounds awful! It sounds like the ballad of a dead dog. That's how my mother perceives a bass solo. But it's just a great title.

AAJ: Well I'm glad to hear that your dog hasn't died. That's good news.

AM: I'm not allowed to have dogs in my apartment. I'm very sorry about that. I would love to have dogs. But maybe one day...

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